Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James: I’m not quite sure when I started getting fascinated by the genre’s history. I’m not quite sure how doing so led me to this book. But I am very sure that anyone who shares that fascination should start here and I can’t really think of many alternatives. Which is sad but that’s besides the point. Mendlesohn and James are readable, knowledgeable, and insightful. There are gaps in the history, and perhaps a focus on Britain’s great authors that doesn’t truly make sense, but that doesn’t detract from its value as long as one is aware this is not the one great truth. But as a way to getting to 90% of 90% of it in a hurry, it’s not bettered so far to my knowledge.
Mimesis and Fantasy by Kathryn Hume: I discovered this book when reading the above, as it is mentioned as an attempt to define fantasy. I have to say from that point of view, the book only makes me roll my eyes, as it considers fantasy as all exaggerations or distortions of reality, which is a definition so far away from mainstream definition as to cause all attempts at communication to run over bumps. But as a piece of literary theory examining the ways authors distort reality in books and the main likely reasons why, it’s very interesting and I’m very glad to have read it.
Stories About Stories by Brian Attebery: Another definition of fantasy, and here Attebery is open about it only being one definition and it only applying to some fantasy; namely fantasy as a reflection on and reinterpretation of myth, legend, folklore, and so on. I enjoyed it and found it fascinating as far as I was interested in the subjects, but foundered on how it’s been used by non-European descended storytellers in Oceania and on the subject of angels in the US (even if it’s a fascinating test of the idea of fantasy being something that involves things we know to be made up when so much of the US believes in angels). I may well revisit the latter parts some day when I’ve read some of the works and understand the context better though.